Reclaiming Wake Forest

I’ve been traveling pretty consistently to colleges, universities, and conferences talking WordPress, WordPress Multiuser (than multisite), ds106, and Domains of One’s Own for around 13 or 14 years now. When I visited Wake Forest University soon after Domains19 last month I wondered how many different university campuses I’ve seen over that time? I’m no Bryan Alexander so it’s not hundreds (or even thousands?) of schools,  but at this point it’s probably approaching 100.* But all this self-congratulatory, thought-leaderish campus tour talk is to say it does not get old for me. I like college campuses a lot. I spent most of my adult life connected with them as either a student or a professional, and at their very best they represent a protected space for free thinking, exploring, and experimenting in a collaborative environment. I understand all too well that’s not the whole picture, but it’s a powerful enough reality to make the inevitable campus politics coupled with trailing edge salaries almost tolerable ?

Fact is, every time I visit a campus part of me is transported back to the moment I was a freshman stepping foot on George Mason’s campus for the first time in 1989. With that experience came a sense of  personal independence and the promise of possibility that has been hard to reproduce in other experiences I’ve had since. I was there to learn—whatever the hell that meant to me then. It’s a feeling that I often get when stepping onto a new college campus, and that was definitely the case at Wake Forest University last month. It’s a gorgeous 350 acre campus north of Winston-Salem’s Old Town. The university re-located there from the town of Wake Forest  (near Raleigh, North Carolina) after the Reynolds family (of the  RJ Reynolds Tobacco fortune) donated the land in the 1950s. In fact, pretty much everything surrounding the campus is part of the Reynolda Historic District, and we were lucky enough to stay at Graylyn, a Norman Revival style mansion on 85 acres replete with outdoor (and indoor) pools, a farm complex, the garage guest house, and the main manor house. The place was nothing short of insane, making my transition from Europe that much easier ?

Staying at hotels on the National Register of Historic Places certainly adds to the overall experience. What’s more, my daughter Tess was traveling with me on this trip and she will never take my complaining about travel seriously after that. 

“But godspeed the punchline, Jimmy, you started this post with an actual point, didn’t you?” You are probably thinking. And, to be clear, I did have something I wanted to share, and while I feel your pain it’s probably not as acute as yours. Wake Forest, thanks to championing of Dr. Carrie Johnston, has been working on rolling out Domain of One’s Own across campus. They have been quite thoughtful and thorough about the rollout, and this trip was an opportunity to meet with the various parties involved for a hands-on for system admins, as well as some practical examples of possibilities. Lauren Brumfield and I have done a few of these, and I really think we have a pretty good rhythm at this point. In fact, after this workshop I realized Lauren is probably more on her game during these workshops than I am, between her confidence presenting, expansive knowledge of all elements of a Domains setup (no small thing), and her growing ability to read the room and make the necessary adjustments she has far exceeded the skills of her, admittedly limited, docent. 

Before day 1 got started we got to meet Carrie who was waiting for us at Lauren’s reserved parking spot (they most have sensed what I just articulated finally) and I became an immediate fan. Carrie came to Wake Forest after doing a Digital Humanities post-doc at Bucknell University. It’s at Bucknell that she first started exploring hosting for DH projects through Reclaim Hosting, and when she got her position as Digital Humanities Research Designer at Wake Forest that she started to push for a digital home for a variety of web-based projects. And, filed under it’s a small world, the CIO of Wake Forest is Mur Muchane, who was previously at Davidson College and also came to visit UMW’s Convergence Center when I was working there in 2015.  Mur is awesome, and it was immediately obvious he is a strong advocate for the digital work happening on campus. It was an absolute joy to chat with a CIO that so deeply understands and so willing to respond to the diverse technological needs of any campus community trying to imagine teaching, learning, and scholarship in the digital age. 

So, with Mur being the start of our first day at Wake Forest I already got the sense this was a school with support and resources for the digital work already happening. That was cemented when I realized the workshop would have well over 25 people attending both days. I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of turn out, and when we did the introductions that morning I realized that their were 14 Instructional Technologists on campus, all of whom have extensive experience running faculty sites through cPanel. It’s as if I was in heaven. Wake Forest has been providing much of the resources we package through Domain of One’s Own, and in many ways we are simply a solution to integrate automation of accounts, single sign-on, and get the servers off-campus. It was really a heartening to see that the work we are doing at Reclaim is truly based in the work Instructional Technologists have been doing for years to provide alternative online publishing platforms for their community. Much of the morning was focused on migrating the accounts from their existing cPanel accounts to their Domains instance, a.k.a Wake Sites, which will be dead simple thanks to cPanel’s transfer tool. The afternoon was a deep-dive into managing WHM (the cPanel server) and WHMCS (the client manager software for the cPanel server). It was an intense, but rewarding, first day.

Day 2 started with me giving a talk about some practical examples of Domains and various uses, as well as the philosophy behind the approach that seemed to be fairly well received. My point has not really changed in 13 years, given faculty and students a space on the web to fashion their online identity using relevant tools, and sites they create should be managed and controlled by them and ultimately portable. After that we had Martha Burtis, Lauren Heywood, and Alan Levine  join us remotely to talk about SPLOTs.

They killed it, and the discussion provided the framework for the rest of the day, which was to highlight the power of creating application-based templates through Installatron, and playing with what that looks like with the various SPLOTs we’ve already integrated in Wake Sites, such as TRU Collector, TRU Writer, various portfolio templates, and more. 

The workshop was really heartening for me because sometimes even I sometimes wonder if Domains is the best way at some of these things. And while there are always better ways, my trip to Wake Forest reminded me that the infrastructure Reclaim is providing and supporting is fundamental to framing a digital transformation on campus that is premised on equipping people to both understand and take more direct ownership of the work they publish on the web. A welcome reminder, and a special thank you to Carrie Johnston for making it happened, bringing us there, and being awesome.


*If I ever have the time and headspace I’m gonna try and piece that list together.

Talking Cloudron at #OER18

Tim and Jim talking CloudRon

Image credit: Lauren Brumfield

I was part of two sessions at OER18 a couple of weeks ago. Lauren Brumfield already blogged and shared the slides of the session she authored on Digital Literacy. I say authored rather than presented because, unfortunately, she fell ill on day 2, and Tim, Meredith, and myself had to step in and deliver the talk. It went off seamlessly because Lauren had already written us into the plot, but the design and execution was all Lauren’s doing—we were just errand boys and girls sent by a grocery clerk to collect a bill ?

Digital Literacy: Reclaiming Your Space

Meredith also presented, and I will post about that separately, but it’s worth taking a moment to comment on the importance of having everyone at Reclaim Hosting getting comfortable with proposing and presenting their ideas at conferences. I know it was huge for me when I was encouraged to present as soon as I started working at UMW. I was pushed to work with the rest of DTLT to hone how we told our story, and that resulted in so much goodness over the years. It’s important to provide a space for exploration and narration as part of life at Reclaim, and OER18 provided an intimate, welcome environment for us to do just that—even beyond Reclaim Video ?

So, having some time to present with Tim about the possible future of Reclaim Hosting in beyond the LAMP environment was a lot of fun. We focused on our explorations of CloudRon, which was timely, given we have a couple of schools particularly interested in exploring a container-driven environment like this for their respective programs.

What is CloudRon? It’s an open source environment for running containerized applications, making it simple to run apps in Node.js, Ruby, etc. which do not run cleanly in a LAMP environment. Below are the slides from our 15 minute lightening presentation, not necessarily all that informative given they are screenshots, but basically comparing cPanel to the CloudRon experience—although to be clear it is not necessarily one or the other.

We discussed how folks have pared down cPanel to just WordPress to make things easier, as well as how software like CloudLinux for cPanel has made it possible to install Ruby apps like Jekyl or Node.js apps like Ghost, but the process is not easy. From there we looked at how dead-simple Cloudron has made it not only to install applications, but map DNS, and even copy and share applications templates. It’s an increasingly compelling space for us to be exploring, and we are fortunate enough to have a couple of partners interested, so I imagine you’ll be hearing much more on this front from Reclaim in the coming months.

cPanel Minimalism

We recently migrated UNLV’s faculty websites to a Domain of One’s Own environment. I learned a lot during that migration which in turn helped motivate me to finally clean up the bavatuesdays multi-network site I’ve been putting off for over a year. Well, dabbling a bit every morning last week and yesterday, that is officially done. All sites on the bavatuesdays domain have been migrated and archived—I can take a short break before going after the jimgroom.net network. 

In the mean time I have been working on a talk for OER18 wherein Tim and I will be talking about hosting beyond the LAMP environment. Applications that run in other server environments that require Node.js, Ruby, etc. would be nice to offer, but integrating them into cPanel is not necessarily easy. I played with hosting Jekyl from a Reclaim account, but that does require a bit more command line work—which is often a non-starter. But alternatives to cPanel such as Cloudron that allow you to spin up containers that seamlessly manage the application’s server requirements, so all you are doing is choosing a domain to run it on. But we have also been playing with integrating SPLOTs more seamlessly into Reclaim’s offering, so there are several options, rather than any one way forward. Not to mention, cPanel and CLoudLinux are both working to make it easier to run Node.js and Ruby apps in their environment, so it may not necessarily be beyond LAMP at all—but rather within or alongside.

All of this brings me back to UNLV’s Faculty Sites, which have really paired down cPanel to the absolute minimum: WordPress, the file manager, and backups. That’s it. Minimalist, faculty can choose between WordPress or a DIY old school HTML site using the file manager to upload files (or FTP). It does kind of beg the question that I hear all too often about it being overwhelming, or there is too much to learn. No, it’s pretty much your own instance of WordPress, and those little files known as HTML (and a few links) that made the web possible. So, the future is as much within a LAMP environment, as it is beyond LAMP. 

Reclaiming Open with WordPress

I woke up to a few tweets about Reclaim Hosting and the #deletefacebook movement. It’s been hard for me to get excited about Facebook either way. I see it as one of the more depressing malls of the web, and I try and stay away as much as possible. And beyond their horrific practices with collecting personal data, I have been equally dismayed over the past several years by their refusal to curtail predatory catfishing when brought to their attention again and again. It seems like expecting anything else from Facebook would be tantamount to expecting that Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” was anything more than a flattering slogan to sell an image.

Skeletor likes to feel evil

And while I tend to agree deleting your account is not necessarily a solution and data collection needs to be regulated more stringently as it soon will be in Europe, a part of me can’t help but think what did we expect? Whether hacked or handed over, did we really doubt that sooner or later we would pay dearly for the “free” services we have gorged ourselves on for more than a decade? I guess that makes the current moment of outrage seem a bit disingenuous, or at least somewhat absurd. In the end, to be a good citizen of the web you have to be willing to take some ownership of your online presence, and that means taking the time and spending a bit of money (although not all that much) to build something on an open platform outside the corporate spaces that have become ubiquitous because we’ve often settled for less when it comes to the open web. WordPress is my drug of choice, and 13 years later it remains a robust open source community that powers near a third of all sites on the web. More than that, it makes me feel like I have far more options through this tool then just about anything else I do online, which in turn allows me to define my presence to a much greater degree, not to mention build course sites, research sites, web services, and more.

So, thanks to the tweets from Laura and Howard this morning, I think this is what my talk for PressEd Conference will be about on Thursday. I have been struggling a bit with that talk given many other folks far smarter than me will have much more interesting things to share when it comes to WordPress in education. So, maybe my 20 tweets or so can be about why using WordPress in education is more relevant than ever given the trappings of a free, but not open, web seem to be coming home to roost presently. And while Facebook is certainly the most deserving of targets for public outrage, chances are they’re not alone in their practices by any stretch of the imagination as Doc Searls blogged about the other day:

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising? 

It’s invigorating and life-affirming to witness a broad movement of folks around the USA, led by some badass high schoolers, demand sane gun laws simply to ensure their safety at school. Something currently taken for granted here in Italy. That for me seems like a first order need—thinking of sending my kids to an American primary or secondary school only to wonder if they will make it home alive because politicians are in the NRA’s pocket is unconscionable. It’s a movement that is long overdue, and there are certainly many forces that helped give it the head of steam it has presently. I want to think the same could be true for reclaiming a bit of the open web, and would like to believe that the work a whole cadre of open educators have been pushing on for the last 10-15 years would be one practical approach, this is of particular interest to me given the perils of higher ed going down the data extraction in the name of personalization that is being pushed by the folks at EDUCAUSE under the banner of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). If we want to look at one space where the outrage around Facebook that might hit even closer to home in the context of education, it could be what companies will be extracting what data in the name of streamlined, integrated personalization environment that the NGDLE promises. Anyway, I’ll save some of this for my Tweetstorm on Thursday ?

Opening Pandora’s Box at Coventry

Yesterday I spoke with a faculty cohort at Coventry University about creating their own portfolios. This group was part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in Higher Education (or PgCert) course led by Martin Jenkins. PgCert provides professional development for faculty and staff, and this cohort will be building out a portfolio as part of the process. This is exciting because it builds on what Chris Long calls “online scholarly presence,” which provided a great frame for my discussion. Not sure it was recorded, but I’ve included the slides below that link to the various resources I discussed during the short presentation if you’re interested.

This was also exciting because it’s the precursor to a longer trip I’ll be taking to Coventry next week to talk to a number of staff, faculty, and students about opening up the Pandora’s Box that is Domain of One’s Own on their campus. I’m not saying they’re going to be running the very first Domains project in the UK at Coventry University through the Disruptive Media Learning Lab….at least I’m not saying that just yet. Who knows, there may even be a 90s computer lab/living room in our future!

Opening Pandora’s Box at Coventry

Kiss Me Deadly's Pandora's Box

Yesterday I spoke with a faculty cohort at Coventry University about creating their own portfolios. This group was part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in Higher Education (or PgCert) course led by Martin Jenkins. PgCert provides professional development for faculty and staff, and this cohort will be building out a portfolio as part of the process. This is exciting because it builds on what Chris Long calls “online scholarly presence,” which provided a great frame for my discussion. Not sure it was recorded, but I’ve included the slides below that link to the various resources I discussed during the short presentation if you’re interested.

This was also exciting because it’s the precursor to a longer trip I’ll be taking to Coventry next week to talk to a number of staff, faculty, and students about opening up the Pandora’s Box that is Domain of One’s Own on their campus. I’m not saying they’re going to be running the very first Domains project in the UK at Coventry University through the Disruptive Media Learning Lab….at least I’m not saying that just yet ? Who knows, there may even be a 90s computer lab/living room in our future!

Reclaim Workshop

I was invited to give a talk at the Sloan-Consortium’s 7th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning. I’ll be talking about Domain of One’s Own, Reclaim Hosting, web thinking,  and some of the amazing possibilities we’re starting to see emerge as a result of the work we’ve done thus far. In fact, Jon Udell’s recent post about names and meaning when it comes to URLs ties nicely into the idea Martha Burtis had regarding naming your own domain as a metaphysical endeavor. This semester is going to be all Domain all the time, and for that I’m very excited. I’ll be giving a playful, experimental version of this talk in Atlanta for the Domain Incubator at Emory University in just over a week. And while the two presentations will be distinct talks, I have an idea of trying to incorporate revanchist 1980s NYC b-movie themes into both—but we’ll see if that works. Actually, it doesn’t really matter what I talk about because the real gold for the Domain Incubator conference, as Tim Owens just announced, will be the open and forkable documentation on Github that will narrate how the entire Domain of One’s Own project has been setup, run, and maintained.

Anyway, the good folks organizing the Sloan conference also gave me the opportunity to run a workshop. I jumped at the chance because I want to see if I can’t get a roomful of folks not only up and running on Reclaim Hosting , but also comfortable with manging their own slice of a web server and various applications in two or three hours. I think I can, and this workshop is going to be the test. Anyway, below is the description I submitted, and I would love any feedback. Would your sign-up for this workshop if you read the description? Does this sound like something a faculty member, technologist, or adminsitrator might even be interested in? I want to start getting at the idea that setting up your own domain and web host is not jsut abut a protfolio (though it’s that too) , but it’s a portal into a broader approach to thinking like the web at the personal, communal, and institution scale.

This workshop will provide attendees a focused session to get up and running with  your own domain name and web hosting account. By the end of this session you will have gotten the following:

  • Your own domain name (i.e. jimgroom.com)
  • Your own web hsoting account (with instruction of how to manage it)
  • Instructions for installing at least one open source application on your web server (such as WordPress, Omeka, etc.)
  • Instructions for publishing original content to your space.

Sounds crazy, right? But it’s not, taking control of your online presence and managing your own domain and web space has never been easier. The goal of this workshop is to provide faculty, technologists, and administrators a hands-on overview of how the web works from the inside-out. In a moment when everyone is talking about controlling your data, learning to code, and web literacy—a sandbox space like this is invaluable for taking the first steps in truly interrogating how to think like the web.